TotalFootball
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TotalFootball

How competitive have the top European leagues been?

From one-horse races to see-saws

What is competitiveness?

Before we look into the data, it’s important to understand competitiveness. The definition is quite simple. It’s about having many, or at least more than one, genuine challengers for the league title over a period of time. The keyword here is genuine. We can talk about Top 3 or Top 6 but usually even from them, only 2–3 challengers can (and do) win, over a period of time.

  • How many different teams have won the title?
  • How many consecutive wins have happened?

Spain

History

Since it’s inception in 1929, Spanish football has had 10 unique champions. As expected, the competition has been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona whose 33 (38%) and 26 (30%) titles account for 2/3rds of the total. Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid are in joint 3rd place with 8 titles apiece. It’s almost been what I call a 2.5 horse race — an El Clasico duopoly interrupted infrequently by other clubs.

Recent seasons

Liga in the last decade

England

History

The Football League is the oldest competition of its kind in the world. Since its inception in 1888, Manchester United have been the most successful team. The bulk of its 20 titles though have come in the Premier League era, in contrast to closest challenger Liverpool, whose 18 titles so far (until 2018/19 season) have come before the start of the Premier League. Together, these clubs account for 30% of the titles to date. Arsenal is in third place with 13 titles. Everton and Aston Villa, with 7 titles apiece, round off the top five, accounting for 54% of the titles.

Recent seasons

Premier League in the last decade

Germany

Due to the World War, German football has seen many changes. When looking at recorded history from 1903, there have been 29 unique winners. Overall, Bayern is the most successful club with 29 (27%) titles followed by FC Nuremberg’s 9 titles (8%). The Bundesliga competition (from 1962/63) though is a different story. Bayern Munich’s 28 titles account for a staggering 50% of the total! Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach take a (distant) second place with 5 titles apiece.

Recent seasons

Italy

History

Since the start of football in Italy (1898), 16 clubs have won the league title. Juventus have 35 titles (30%) with the Milan sides accounting for 18 apiece. The Serie A era (from 1929/30) has seen 13 unique winners. Juventus’ 33 Serie A titles comprise the lion’s share (38%) of the total. AC Milan and Inter are the next most successful sides with 15 and 13 titles respectively. These three clubs account for 70% of all titles won.

Recent seasons

Serie A in this decade

France

History

Since the start of football in France (1893/94), 28 clubs have won the title. Marseille and St Etienne have 10 titles apiece with Paris St Germain on 9. The count changes little if we look only at the Professional Era (1932/33 onwards). St Etienne have 10 titles (12%) with Marseille and PSG on 9 apiece. Monaco and Nantes have 8 apiece. These 5 clubs account for 50% of all titles won — across both eras. Of these, PSG is remarkable in that 7 of its 9 titles have come in the last decade, influenced no doubt by the Qatari takeover.

Recent seasons

Ligue 1 in this decade

It is nice to have valid competition; it pushes you to do better — Gianni Versace

Competition

Since the turn of the century, France has the most clubs (9) challenging for the top two positions (this is measured as unique clubs in 1st or 2nd position). In comparison, Germany has had 8 clubs, England and Spain, 7 each; while Italy has had 6 clubs.

  • Bayern dominating the Bundesliga is nothing new. Their unprecedented dominance in the last decade has been an outlier — even by its own standards.
  • In France, there has been a history of St Etienne and Lyon dominating for periods. However, PSG, with their squad worth 2–4 times their most formidable rivals, seems set for long dominance.
  • In Italy, Juventus’ eight consecutive titles have made the last decade into the most one-sided in Serie A history. Compare this to the golden era of the Serie A — from the 80s to the mid-00s. In the 80s, just one title defence was possible, while the 90s and 00s saw at least four teams trade titles.
  • In the 80s, one of the most competitive decades for Bundesliga, Germany had 6 finalists — it’s best ever performance to date.
  • During its golden age in the 90s, Serie A provided a staggering 13/20 finalists for UEFA Cup.
  • This decade, it’s most competitive ever, the English Premier League had the best ‘returns’ in the Europa League — since the (wait for it) 1970s.
  • This is not surprising because strong internal competition lifts the level of other clubs, who can then compete better in their respective competitions. Even if the title is fought between traditional heavyweights, competitions like UEFA Cup or UEL can be contested vigorously to ensure a trophy is won each season.

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